Apr 2, 2024 2 min read

TikTok spends more than $2 million on ad campaign against the proposed sell-or-be-banned law

TikTok last week began airing ads in the US that urge the public to tell their Senators to oppose a bill that would force owner ByteDance to sell the app or face a ban. The social media firm urges voters to consider the impact of a ban on small business owners, as well as American teachers and moms

TikTok spends more than $2 million on ad campaign against the proposed sell-or-be-banned law

TikTok is pumping more than $2 million into an ad campaign that is encouraging Americans to publicly oppose the “sell-or-be-banned” proposal that was recently passed in the US House Of Representatives, which seeks to remove Chinese control over the short form video platform. 

In the ad that started airing last week, a TikTok creator urges the American public to, "Think about the five million small business owners who rely on TikTok to provide for their families".

Another declares that "TikTok has made me a better teacher, it's helped me to connect with people far beyond my classroom". And a third TikTok user observes that, "The village is always there for the moms on TikTok". The message is that US Congress wants to ban TikTok, and that will be hugely detrimental to small business owners, teachers and moms, among others. 

The House Of Representatives speedily passed a bill last month that would force TikTok's owner - China-based ByteDance - to either sell the app out of Chinese control or face a US-wide ban. The legislation is motivated by concerns that the Chinese government has access to TikTok user-data via ByteDance, something that the social media firm denies. The proposals have now passed to the US Senate for consideration. 

According to CNBC and data from AdImpact, TikTok's campaign ad is being broadcast in states where Democrat Senators will be facing tough battles for re-election later this year, as well as ad markets that are key for reaching younger consumers and journalists. 

TikTok presumably wants concerned users to reach out to their Senators telling them to vote against the bill. It previously pushed alerts within its own app urging users to contact their Representatives, although that campaign arguably backfired with some Congress members saying that the social media firm’s tactic’s strengthened their resolve to support the bill. 

It's generally thought there will be more resistance to the proposed law in the Senate, where the free speech implications of banning TikTok are more likely to be a cause for concern. 

That said, TikTok's critics in Washington are keen to stress that the most likely outcome of the bill passed by the House is that ByteDance would sell TikTok, which would then continue to operate as normal. 

Sources say that, for ByteDance, a sale remains the absolute last resort, not least because a forced sale would likely hit regulatory issues in China. 

However, the US is such a big market - where, the FT reported last month, TikTok now generates $16 billion in annual sales - that ByteDance would almost certainly still rather sell TikTok, and profit from the sale, than shut the app off to American users. And Business Insider recently listed various investors and consortiums that are reportedly interested in making a bid.  

To that end, TikTok's advert, which implies that the only outcome of the proposed law is the app being banned, has been criticised as misleading. 

However, a spokesperson for the social media company told CNBC, “This bill was rushed through the House exactly because its authors know it would ultimately result in a ban. Many of the bill’s biggest cheerleaders in the House have publicly described this legislation as a ‘ban’ bill". 

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